PUTREFACTION OR - DECOMPOSITION 131
down from the hand on the slightest touch. For practical purposes it is not
possible for a murderer to imitate this condition.
Medico-legally the condition of cadaveric spasm is very important,
inasmuch as the finding of a weapon, hairs, pieces of clothing, etc. firmly
grasped by the fingers of a dead body may lead to the detection of a case
being suicidal or homicidal. It must, however, be remembered that a heavy
weapon may drop down from the hand of a suicide, unless it becomes glued
down by clotting of the effused blood.
A European widow, aged 40 years, who shot herself with a five-chambered revolver
while driving in a victoria, was found with the revolver gripped in her right hand,-1
On the other hand, an army Major who committed suicide on the 1st December 1922,
by shooting himself with a revolver through the mouth was seen reclining against a
wall in a bathroom at the Royal Hotel, Lucknow, with the head drooping forward and
the revolver lying between his legs with the right thumb and index finger loosely *
touching the trigger. In the case of King-Emperor v. Navmth Singh, a piece of cloth
found grasped in the hand of a murdered person, Phuloo Singh3 was proved to have
been torn from the vest of the accused at the time of murder.2-
(3) Secondary Relaxation.—With the disappearance of rigor mortlsvj
the muscles become soft and flaccid, but do not respond to a mechanical or*
electrical stimulus as in the first stage of relaxation. This is due to the dis-j
organization of actomyosin. The reaction of the muscles again becomes
7. PUTREFACTION OR DECOMPOSITION
This is absolutely a certain sign of death. It is a slow process and is
brought about by the action of ferments produced by living saprophytic micro-
organisms, which resolve the complex organized tissues of the body into
simpler, inorganic compounds. These micro-organisms are both aerobic and
anaerobic, and during life are found in large numbers in the alimentary canal
but, within a short time after death, are found scattered in all the tissues,
organs and even in the blood. As a result of their action the dead body
invariably putrefies unless special means are taken to prevent their access
or the tissues are rendered unfit for their use.
External Phenomena.—It is said that putrefaction follows the disappear-
ance of rigor mortis, but this is not always the case ; since, in Northern India,
especially during the hot months from April to October, it commences before
rigor mortis has completely passed off from the lower extremities. This fact
has been observed by me in a large number of dead bodies in Agra and
Lucknow. India being a vast country, the climatic conditions vary so much
in different parts that it is impossible to give the exact time when the putre-
factive processes develop in a dead body.
Thg^two characteristic features of putrefaction are the colour changes
and the development of foul-smelling gases.
Colour Changes.—The first external evidence of putrefaction in a body-
exposed to the air is the formation of greenish discoloration of the abdominal
' skin over the iliac fossae. This discoloration is due to the conversion of
hsemoglobin of the blood pigment into sulphmethaemoglobin by the action
of sulphuretted hydrogen diffusing from the intestine into the tissues, and
occurs from one to three days after death in winter, and six to twelve hours
in summer. This patch of green discoloration is more evident on a fair skin
than on a dark one. About the same time the eyeball becomes soft and
yielding, the cornea becomes white and milky and is either flattened or com-
pressed. Later, the eye collapses and the cornea becomes concave.
From twelve to eighteen hours after death in summer the green colora-
tion spreads over the entire abdomen and the external genitals. Green
21. Leader, Feb. 12, 1928, p. 11.
22. All. High Court, Cr. App. No. 25 of 1925.